Back Chat #1

Seth Rowden

May 22, 2018

Seth Rowden is a Norwich-based independent copywriter. He works with businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK and beyond to write the words for websites, branding and marketing. Clients include Mango Bikes, Muncherie, and Rip It Up and Start Again. He also writes an inspiring blog, full of news, views and interviews centred around the craft of copywriting.

22/05/2018, 10:10 - BTF:

Righto – to kick us off – please tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living, on the side, and for fun?

22/05/2018, 11:10 - Seth Rowden:

My name is Seth. I work as a copywriter and I’m interested in brands that have a voice (or want one). I moved to Norwich two years ago, after living in Brighton. It sometimes feels like my life has been one big side project. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years and not all of them have worked out. At the moment, I’m rolling the dice on a few projects: a conceptual motorcycle magazine, a blockchain ICO, a series of tech events in London, and a group here in Norwich for freelancers. I’m also interested in books, and I’m trying to find more time to write fiction.

22/05/2018, 11:15 - BTF:

That’s quite lot you’ve got on your plate! Are we allowed to know any more about the magazine? What makes it conceptual?

22/05/2018, 11:25 - Seth Rowden:

Sure. It’s a project I’ve been working on with a motorcycle company. We were inspired by a story about a 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet in India. The bike was involved in an accident and, after the Police took it away, it kept returning back to the site of the crash. No matter what they did, the bike kept returning to the same spot. The motorcycle is now a shrine and people travel for miles to pray for a safe journey. We decided to create a magazine that is small enough to carry on a bike and read on the side of the road, kind of a travel companion. Each edition is focused on a single word. There are no illustrations, and the stories are written by the motorcycle community around this theme. We’re hoping to launch at the end of the year, so I’ll be able to say more then 🤐

22/05/2018, 11:31 - BTF:

Sounds absolutely brilliant (a nice meeting of content and form) – and what a magical story ✨🏍✨ We look forward to hearing more… Looking back over all the stuff you’re up to, it’s clear you’re motivated by collaboration, a sense of creative community, and personal passions. With that in mind, what are you working on at the moment that you find particularly inspiring, or feel is particularly important?

22/05/2018, 12:12 - Seth Rowden:

Yes, you’re right. Well, the answer that immediately comes to mind is the Norwich Creative Freelancer group. I set this up with my partner, Aoife, shortly after we moved to Norwich. She is also self-employed. We wanted to meet people who had a similar rhythm and understood all of the things you mentioned in your first question – people who had side interests and were curious. The only groups I could find were either too general or geared towards professional networking. NCF is much more like having after-work drinks for people without colleagues. We meet in coffee shops and pubs around the city. There are now well over 300 members, which shows how strong the freelance scene is in Norwich. We have artists, musicians, writers, designers, developers, entrepreneurs, dancers, actors, photographers – so many interesting people from different backgrounds. There’s a lot of support and generosity in the group. It’s great to see people making friends outside of the regular meetings.

22/05/2018, 12:25 - Seth Rowden:

Joe, press pause on the interview for a couple of hours. I’m going book shopping 🤓

22/05/2018, 12:26 - BTF:

👍👍👍 Just give me a nudge when you’re ready (and tell me what you grab from the bookshop!)

22/05/2018, 13:39 - Seth Rowden:

From The Book Hive

22/05/2018, 13:39 - Seth Rowden:

… nudge away

22/05/2018, 13:55 - Joe:

Superb choices! Bit of a crime / thriller theme going on there… Any particular reason why you picked those two up? And – comtinuing from where we left off – the meetups sound like a great way to help those making the ‘jump’ from full-time work to freelance. I know many people are nervous when they start out, so having a social group that ‘gets’ how you work must be really comforting. Thank you for helping the creative community! 🤝But aside from this social support, do you think the meetups influence your own work? Has being exposed to a range of different creative disciplines, and different work schedules, changed the way you approach your copywriting and branding jobs?

22/05/2018, 14:50 - Seth Rowden:

I’ve heard good things about Lullaby and felt like a page-turner to take away with me on a trip later this week. Frankenstein In Baghdad sounds WILD. It’s about (as I understand it) a character in war-torn Baghdad who stitches together human body parts from explosions to raise awareness. The corpse comes to life as a monster and rampages around the city killing people…

22/05/2018, 14:52 - Seth Rowden:

To touch on your point about the creative group… I’ve met other writers through NCF and we all work in such different areas, although I have collaborated with a few people in the group. One person in particular has been mentoring me with my own writing (outside of copywriting). People turn up who have recently set out on their own, or who want to get out of the house, or who just want to share the ups and downs. We’ve had a few students from the art school who are already taking the first steps to becoming self-employed. I suppose they influence me – their courage, the way they see the world, their awareness online. What I like about the group is that the conversation is varied. One day we’re talking about antique furniture, then theatre, then painting, then fashion, then technology, then landscaping etc. I always leave the meetings feeling inspired. I’ve made a lot of friends through the group, and I’m grateful for that.

22/05/2018, 15:51 - Joe:

Variety is the spice of life! You’ve hit on one of things we believe is a big advantage when working with freelancers – you’re drawing on experts who are working in a way, in a place, and around people they find most creatively stimulating. Talking of being inspired – outside of your own work, is there any arts, social or charity thing you’ve been particularly inspired by recently? (Could be someone from the meetup group, or more generally!)

22/05/2018, 16:23 - Seth Rowden:

Yes, I think you’re right. I’m also seeing that a lot more; not specifically a freelance model, but certainly businesses choosing their team irrespective of location. Actually, there is a theatre company based in Norwich called Curious Directive Curious Directive. It’s run by a friend of mine called Jack. They have a show called Frogman that did really well at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I won’t give anything away, but it’s a mix of live theatre and virtual reality – there’s nothing else like it. I went to a viewing a few weeks ago and that inspired me. In terms of other arts, I watched Hip-Hop Revolution on Netflix a while back. Have you seen it? That kind of opened a door with early hip-hop revolution and what those guys are doing lyrically. On that note, there’s also a project by the copywriter Nick Asbury on Instagram called #realtime_notes, which are a series of poems inspired by daily events. Also, I should probably mention another major influence on Instagram – Gueorgui Pinkassov. He’s a photographer and a member of Magnum. The way he works with light and colour is incredible. Speaking to your point earlier about side projects, Teju Cole’s book, Known and Strange Things, is a black hole for time and relentlessly references people/subjects that inspire me.

22/05/2018, 16:51 - Joe:

Right, we now have a VERY long to do / to watch / to read / to experience list. Thanks for all the tips 👌 You are evidently a man of immense interest, curiosity and energy – the entrepreneurial force is strong with this one… But to change gears a bit now, what do you think is the biggest creative challenge facing you, your job, or the people you work with?

22/05/2018, 17:49 - Seth Rowden:

Thanks 🙃

22/05/2018, 18:13 - Seth Rowden:

Good question. I think it depends on the person. There are a thousand things that hold people back creatively. Perhaps the most universal is CONFIDENCE. This doesn’t just apply to people starting out. Confidence is something we must practice. Confidence is what we trade, especially with something as abstract and objective as ‘creativity’. I’m talking about an inner confidence, a conviction in what you are doing that has nothing to do with arrogance. I was once told to write down in the Notes app on my phone whenever someone says something nice to me. I sometimes do that. We forget so quickly. The second thing is HAVE AN OPINION. For me, this is the one I have the most trouble with. We are often encouraged to take ourselves out of the work – whether it’s our humour, our ideas, our quirks, even our flaws. We (especially clients) are too cautious. I tell them that if the work doesn’t make them feel uneasy when they first see it, then we haven’t pushed hard enough. Safe work doesn’t get noticed. And safe work doesn’t get made if you don’t have a confidence and something to say.

22/05/2018, 18:27 - Joe:

Very wise words. Our next question was going to be about “the best bit of advice you’ve been given” but that answer covers that – and then some! What a wonderful idea to keep track of positive thoughts. Simple but probably very impactful. Speaking of confidence and opinions – you’re part of Toastmasters, aren’t you? Could you tell us a little more about that – and how that has impacted your approach to work / creativity / hobbies?

22/05/2018, 19:06 - Seth Rowden:

Yes, with pleasure! Toastmasters is a worldwide organisation where people meet up and practice public speaking. Sounds like fun, right? If you would rather die than give a speech then you’re not alone. It’s the number one fear for most people. I’ve never been comfortable in the spotlight and I wanted to overcome this feeling. Along the way, I realised how wrong I was. I’m not sure that a feeling is something we should ‘overcome’. Some of the best speakers in the club ride their nerves – and when they’re in this space there’s an energy, a vulnerability and an honesty. It’s an incredibly supportive environment and I always leave feeling inspired. There’s a part of the evening called Table Topics. This is where anyone can stand up and speak for up to two minutes on a subject without preparation. This has helped me to ‘have an opinion’ and there’s a structure to answering questions on the fly that I now sometimes use with copywriting. I should add that people join for many different reasons, not just nerves.

22/05/2018, 19:22 - Joe:

It sounds like an organisation that many creative types would benefit from checking out, particularly for those tricky things like pitches, funding applications, presentations… Or, as you point out, to help more generally with writing or simply well-being. And on that happy note, we’re pretty much at the end of our questions. Thanks so much for chatting Seth, you’ve opened our little minds to a shed-load of new ideas (and inspired us to do more with our free time!) But before you go (probably to start up a new project…), we wanted to ask one last thing. And you can interpret this one however you wish – what’s your one big recommendation?

22/05/2018, 20:38 - Seth Rowden:

Thanks Joe, it’s been great. I really appreciate you asking me to take part. My one big recommendation? Erm… to check out my website 😉

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